Peter Hawkins to Retire

Peter Hawkins
November 5, 2018

The Institute of Sacred Music announces the retirement of Peter S. Hawkins, professor of religion and literature, effective at the end of the fall 2019 semester.

Peter S. Hawkins joined the faculty of Yale Divinity School in 1976 after receiving the Master of Divinity degree at Union Theological Seminary in 1974 and the Ph.D. in English at Yale in 1975. With Prof. John Wesley Cook, he joined the faculty of the Institute of Sacred Music in 1985, a move that brought the program in religion and the arts to the ISM. During his long career at Yale and beyond, he helped to shape the field of religion and literature, and the lives of hundreds of students. 

Recognized internationally as a leading scholar in Dante studies, as evidenced, for example, by Dante’s Testaments: Essays on Scriptural Imagination (1999), The Poets’ Dante: Twentieth-Century Reflections (2001), and Dante, A Brief History (2006)Hawkins has broadened his work well beyond this field. His research in the history of biblical reception has led to three co-edited volumes to which he also contributed essays –  Scrolls of Love: Ruth and the Song of Songs (2006), Medieval Readings of Romans (2007), and From the Margin I: Women of the Hebrew Bible and Their Afterlives (2009). With Paula Carlson he edited the four-volume Augsburg Fortress series Listening for God: Contemporary Literature and the Life of Faith (2004); with Anne Howland Schotter he co-edited Ineffability: Naming the Unnamable from Dante to Beckett (1984, reissued 2016).  He has also written on twentieth-century fiction (The Language of Grace: Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, and Iris Murdoch, 1983, 2004), Utopia (Getting Nowhere: Christian Hope & Utopian Dream, 1985), the NAMES Project Quilt (“Naming Names: The Art of Memory and the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt,” 1993). His most recent book, written with Lesleigh Cushing Stahlberg, is The Bible and the American Short Story (2017). 

Hawkins is also noted as a speaker: He gave the 2006 Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale Divinity School (published as Undiscovered Country: Imagining the World to Come, 2009) and in 2018 was the James W. Richard Lecturer at the University of Virginia. He has held residential fellowships In England at Oxford, Cambridge, and York, and in Italy at the Centro Studi Ligure (Bogliasco). During his time on the faculty of Boston University (2000-2008), he founded and directed the Luce Program in Scripture and the Literary Arts, and was awarded the Metcalf Prize for Excellence in Teaching there. Since his return to YDS and the ISM, he has also taught in Yale College’s Directed Studies program for freshmen.

Throughout his career, Hawkins’s devotion to the subject matter of his discipline is rivalled only by his utter commitment to students and the teaching enterprise. In fact, his life has been filled with testimonies, both formal and informal, to the fact that for him, teaching is not a duty, but a privilege; not a skill, but an art. Many of us have sat spellbound in classrooms and lecture halls as he leads his listeners through passages of Scripture, of The Divine Comedy, and of other formative texts, probing questions not only of origin and form, but also of their significance for and impact on our world. 

Peter Hawkins looks forward to having more time to write, and remains open to continue teaching on an occasional basis here and elsewhere as opportunities arise. We will hope, therefore, that continued collaboration may be possible between the ISM and this extraordinary scholar and teacher.